The upswell of the Black Lives Matter movement has created a conversation around supporting Black owned businesses. Some of my non-Black colleagues seem confused by this. “Isn’t this reverse racism? I’m not racist, I don’t see color!” is a common trope heard during times like this.
While an event planning blog is not the best platform to address how those types of statements actually promote white supremacy*, one thing I am qualified to address is how to make your event better. One way to do this is to make your event or wedding a force for good. Here’s my opinion on how buying more often from BIPOC- (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and locally-owned businesses can do this, starting by contrasting with the following examples of common practices among large, global corporations:
Yikes, right? While not every corporation may be guilty of these types of wrongdoings, it’s more common than not. By choosing a local and/or BIPOC-owned event business, you lessen the risk of sending your hard-earned event dollars to organizations that perpetuate racism, profit from prison labor, deplete the environment, and steal intellectual and artistic property.
In addition, when you avoid mass-produced event and wedding items, you’re more likely to:
integrate artisanship and hand-crafted know-how into your event
avoid cookie-cutter designs and boring flavors
reduce your carbon footprint by avoiding overseas shipping.
It’s important to reduce negative impacts of consumption, both environmental and social. This extends to events. Most of us know that in this big, big world of 7 billion people, we won’t solve every problem in a few months. I myself am just beginning a long process of educating myself, divesting from old processes, and doing my small part. I present this idea of normalizing buying local, and buying BIPOC, as often as you can, and especially with large purchases such as wedding- and event-related costs, as one way to raise awareness, reduce your risk of harm, and make your event better.
* I recommend Alishia McCullough’s 7 Circles of Whiteness article, which is much better at explaining this phenomenon.
In addition to the COVID-19 upheaval in the world, summer 2020 heralds a historic uprising against racism and inequity, part of a greater struggle for civil rights that has been going on for hundreds of years. While many of us knew that Black Lives Matter (at a minimum — what Black lives are is priceless and beloved), still many more had been silent about this fact in the face of ever-growing disparity and injustice. No one can be silent any more. Although the feelings of unrest and change may feel concerning, in many ways, this time has us at EJP Events feeling more hopeful, creative, and fired up.
Events are about hospitality and coming together. Weddings are about love. When deep injustices affect our communities of color, it feels impossible and inhospitable to go on doing the work of event planning without first doing whatever we can do to address these threats to life and the ones we love.
When event industry folk talk about wanting to “go back to normal”, what normal were they talking about? The world where it was normal for police to commit extrajudicial executions on city streets? The world where our federal government has defunded public health task forces, and our health insurance system, leaving us vulnerable for a pandemic to cut down 160,000+ of our people and counting? No, we don’t want to go back to normal. We at EJP Events believe Black Lives Matter and that means actively adding our voice to the movement for justice.
At EJP Events, during the week of June 1 – 7 we muted our social media and made it a priority to amplify Black voices. After this, we continued self-directed education, reading, and introspection. We wanted to make sure we explicitly state practices in our event business that we follow, but may not have been vocal about in the past.
Our Anti-Racism Pledge:
We recognize that the lack of diversity in the events and weddings business hurts Black-owned event businesses and Black people in general. As a business owner who identifies as Asian-American and a woman of color, I see how being “white-adjacent” and how the “Model Minority” myth plays into systemic racism and harms our Black colleagues. It’s time to commit to doing our part to right these wrongs. Therefore, we pledge to be actively anti-racist in our communication materials, our business processes, and our hiring practices. The following are four specific practices and policies we use to highlight and uplift the Black community, especially the Black LGBTQIA+ community, and to be inclusive in events and weddings:
• We use welcoming and inclusive language in our internal communications as well as in the communications we help write for event clients. We pledge to educate others when we see non-welcoming and non-inclusive language, especially in marketing materials and event registration forms.
• We recommend venue and vendor choices to our clients that are welcoming to Black and Indigenous hosts and attendees as well as those of all ethnicities, and remove venue and vendor choices from our recommendations who practice racial profiling or other discriminatory practices.
• We hire from an ethnically diverse roster of vendors that includes Black event professionals. We pledge that the number of Black event professionals we hire will be proportionally representative or more, of the racial background of the community we live in.
• We center positive and joyous Black and BIPOC representation in our website, marketing materials, and social media. The number of images we feature will be at a minimum, proportionally representative or more, of the population of the community we live in.
These practices are implemented effective immediately, and we promise to review our practices on a quarterly basis, with our first all-company review due in December 2020, to ensure that our public actions in the event and wedding planning world align with our values. We ask that you call us in and hold us accountable by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have feedback or notice ways we can be doing better.
We acknowledge that we didn’t come up with these ideas on our own, and do not position ourselves as experts in this field. Racial justice expertise is an area we defer to Black leaders, to whom we pledge to expand our knowledge of, and continue to listen to. Equity and justice work is the labor of a lifetime. As humans, we acknowledge our own mistakes and imperfections in this process; we ask for, and continually give grace to others, in this journey. We’ll be updating, refining, and adding to our pledge as our understanding and processes continue to evolve.
We are grateful to the individuals and communities who have welcomed us into their networks in order to continually learn and grow. Also, many thanks to these events businesses who are leading the way and have inspired us in this discussion: All the Days, Cocktails and Details, EllyB Events, and Andrew Roby Events.
Additionally, to further underscore our commitment to being inclusive hospitality professionals, we:
• Undertake disability justice training, and apply these lenses to event design. This can manifest in a recommendation of specific event setups to accommodate different types of physical and mental/emotional event accessibility needs.
• We educate our clients to offer translation and other accommodations to make their events more inclusive.
This time can feel overwhelming. If you are a Black event professional, likely this time has felt like an additional blow to your sense of safety. Non-Black and White people are wondering, how can I help? While we’d never say we have all, or even any answers, for anything that’s going on, at the moment it feels right to share the following three focus points:
1. Take care of yourself!
Community Care Resources for Black / BIPOC Event Professionals and others:
2. Ways to Be Generous and Share of Yourself and Your Resources.
Many of us feel overwhelmed by both the pandemic, and at the same time, know it’s necessary to show up for Black lives. I have found that giving and being generous assists me in being thankful and feeling gratitude. Gratitude can lead to better mental health and may alleviate the feelings of depression that come from working through challenging historic times. If you are able, here are some places to give (some Black/BIPOC-focused, some event industry-focused):
There are many places to give and participate; I’ve highlighted these as I’m an event planner based in the Pacific Northwest and these links are particularly relevant to me. You may find other organizations that are relevant to your situation or location.
3. Why you should want to work with diverse vendors, and how to find them:
1 in 5 millennial marriages, the majority wedding consumer today, are interracial. Yet wedding publications do not reflect the reality of current weddings, even with the real weddings they choose to publish.
I would add, that not including faces and stories from the nearly 42% of Americans who are not White, in wedding and event media, is a cultural erasure. Avoiding the full picture of the many cultures of the global event experience can lead to increased stereotypes, implicit bias, and to a decline in event quality and creativity. When all you’re seeing is the same whitewashed and filtered Instagram wedding and event feeds, all of similar, non-diverse people, you’re missing out on things that your attendees expect from you, like creative and varied design choices, visuals, menus and tactile experiences.
How do you find diverse businesses to work with? Perhaps, like us, you’ve been on your own journey working on event diversity, inclusion, and justice work for several years, and you have a roster of contacts. If you don’t, you might want to make a list. But watch out! I have mixed feelings about creating new lists of BIPOC-owned businesses. In some ways, it’s great to have a list to refer to at your fingertips. In other ways, it can feel like a “roundup” or tokenism. BIPOC-owned businesses don’t want handouts or to be the lone non-White face in the name of diversity. These businesses have unique voices and stand on their own merits, and that alone is the reason you should be working with diverse businesses – because their contribution will make your event better.
My take? If you have a non-Black business or organization, do your research first. There are already a lot of lists out there! Consider partnering with or reaching out to Black-owned businesses to collaborate on a resource, before striking out making lists on your own, which runs the risk of looking like saviorism or Columbusing. It’s a nuanced issue, and in all cases, the wants and needs of the business owners themselves should be considered first, as well as the motivation behind the list. If a directory is created in order to promote and support BIPOC business, great. However, if an entity by “creating a list” winds up drawing attention to themselves, positioning themselves as a gatekeeper to information, and centering their non-BIPOC business in the current conversation, then that can be problematic. Whether or not that’s the intention is immaterial – it’s the action and effect on the business and how the BIPOC business owner experiences the interaction, that counts.
That being said, it’s easy to find Black, Indigenous, and Person of Color-owned businesses to work with and to enjoy. We put together a resource to help you get started. Don’t be shy, follow and support! You may be surprised at how the vision for your event becomes that much more creative and inspired.
Is accessibility on your site selection checklist? It’s not always something that you as the couple may be thinking about. Often, high on the site “gotta haves” are things like a gorgeous view, good chairs, and a good selection of caterers.
However, with so many people of varied ages and needs in most families, some thought should be given to the accessibility of your wedding event sites. And that’s not just limited to the ceremony and reception — think also of your rehearsal dinner, bridal luncheon, goodbye brunch, or any other events to which you might have guests attending with accessibility needs.
The most common issues are older folks — think Grandma and Grandpa, your Auntie coming from abroad; anyone who might have trouble with a flight of stairs, a steep stone path, or uneven walkways. Think about any of your family or guests who have recently had surgery or medical treatment which might make walking or longer distances between sites a potential challenge.
Putting a little bit of forethought into the accessibility of your chosen site can help a great deal in making sure all of your guests, including those with physical challenges, feel welcome and comfortable at your wedding.
A version of this article appeared on the blog in June 2008.
The investment into event sponsorship can be very rewarding for an organization, but it can also feel risky. While sponsoring an event can be a valuable way for a business or an organization to connect with a community or interest group, for small businesses, the dollar amounts involved can be daunting. Does that mean that there’s no room for small businesses to take part? Absolutely not – here are some ways small businesses can “test the sponsorship waters” before launching into larger (higher dollar amount) sponsorships of events:
Donation of gift cards to silent auctions
Participate in more intimate, smaller-audience events
Buy a table and invite business colleagues to dine out for a cause
Sponsor a teacher or attendee scholarship so an under-served population can attend an event
In-kind sponsorship: Providing the business’s service or product for use at the event
Offer volunteer perks/meals/lounge areas to support the volunteers of an event
It’s always important for the business to be clear about the goals and objectives of sponsoring an event and to make sure they are SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Equally important is to have a written sponsorship agreement that outlines the responsibilities of each party and the benefits the sponsor will receive.
By being clear about the objectives, and measuring the results of a small, trial-run sponsorship, even small businesses can see benefits; and eventually, hopefully realize gains that previously they only thought large organizations could achieve.
As an alumna and an AYA volunteer, and especially as a meeting planner and association manager (I do event planning and contract association management for a couple of regional associations in the Pacific Northwest); it was an exciting opportunity to see the inner workings of a large, international, global association encompassing more than 160,000 members around the world.
The theme for the event was “Creating Community at Yale” and attendees came from all eras, from The Silent Generation to the newest “Gen Z”ers from Yale’s graduating class of 2017.
The entire 3-day conference was packed so full of activities, I hardly had any time to document, but I did put together this short slideshow to give you a glimpse of what attending the AYA Assembly is like:
And how do you create community in such a massive organization, spanning so many age groups, interest groups, and regions? Certainly the answer can’t be contained in a short blog post, but I’ll try to cover a few points that I saw being discussed at Assembly:
Recognize Shared Interest Groups (SIGs) and give them a voice at the Assembly
Survey the membership for their preferences in what the AYA should be delivering to them; report on the results of the survey, and allow it to inform decisions moving forward
It was a great experience for a first timer to see the massive operation that is the AYA. I’m hoping I can take a lot of what I learned that week back to the other associations that I help to manage and coordinate conferences for, and see if any of these ideas about creating community also apply to other organizations.
*(For the Yalies out there, I was officially an alternate delegate from the class of 1995, and unofficially representing the Yale Club of Oregon and SW Washington in order to accept the “Outstanding Mid-Size Cities Award“.)